I may be stating the obvious here, but our Sunday morning service is neatly sandwiched between Saturday evening and Sunday evening. So, that means it’s in the gap between Strictly Come Dancing – the dancing and Strictly Come Dancing – the Results Show. And any fans of Strictly will be familiar with people going on a journey. Or people now trying not to say that they’re on a journey, but it inadvertently slips out anyway. Even those knocked out in the first round, thank their professional dance partner for the journey that they’ve been on together as they lose their inhibitions, learn to love the sequins, the tassels and the fake tan – and, yes, hopefully in the process, learn a few dance steps too.
This weeks’ readings are also marked by journeys, paths, ways or roads.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight we read in Mark. Isaiah goes further. In a transport scheme worthy of a high-speed rail link, we have every valley lifted-up and every mountain and hill laid low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. No mention of protected woodland or areas of archaeological interest.
In Psalm 85, the psalmist proclaims: Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
And in 2 Peter, we are advised to wait while Christ makes his way to us: Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace.
May the road rise
My favourite blessing is: May the road rise to meet you, may the sun shine warmly on your face, the wind blow strongly at your back, the rain fall gently on your fields. And may God hold you in the palm of his hand, until we meet again.
But in times like now, the landscape we live in can seem devoid of roads or even tracks. We are in unchartered territory. It’s hard for us or anyone else to tell where we will travel and what will happen next. We are beating a path as we go, with all the fears and wonders and challenges this brings.
Yet Advent is a season that calls us to remember that there is a path, semi-hidden, that lies beneath the way that we are going. Others have travelled here before us, each in their own fashion yet providing pieces that we can use: prayers, reflections, songs, sermons, paintings or stories. Fragments that help us to find our way and enable us to raise a valley a little or to lower a mountain a fraction for others yet to come.
I was reminded of the songlines or dreamlines used by native Australians. It’s said that a knowledgeable person is able to navigate across the outback by repeating the words of the song, which describe the location of landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena.
By singing the songs in the appropriate sequence, a person could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia’s interior. The continent of Australia contains an extensive system of songlines, some of which are of a few miles, whilst others traverse hundreds of miles.
Perhaps we would do well to memorise the prayers and songs of those who have gone before us. To make our own songlines. Maybe it would help us better navigate through our own unknown territory? To not be so fearful of unfamiliar surroundings?
Isaiah is a good place to start. Isaiah was written before, during and after exile into Babylon. All the old certainties were gone for the Israelites too. Their way of life, how they did business, where they worshipped… it all changed. They had to make it up as they went along. To travel light, without the normal baggage.
In some sense we are all creating the road as we travel along it. Yet those other hidden paths were trod by those who followed the God who called them to the journey, who gave themselves to preparing a way for the One who came into the world to walk with us.
So, what path are you travelling in this Advent season? What do you find along the way that can help you create the road as you go? Who in your past, or perhaps your present, has helped to fashion the path and has provided inspiration to walk it in the way that is uniquely you?
But then how might you prepare the way and become part of the way for the Christ who comes to us – and for others who may follow? Because Advent invites each of us to lift our heads, to raise our eyes, to look toward the horizon and dream of the way by which Christ will come to us. What an amazingly hopeful invitation.
In calling us to look toward the horizon, Advent does not draw us away from the present or ask us to avoid the world around us. Advent invites us instead to stand in the thick of life and open our heart to the road that Christ wants to make, not only for us but also in us and through us. Because when Christ comes, the horizon he appears on is not so distant, after all. The place where he shows up is always in our very midst.
Blessing the Way – Jan Richardson
With every step
this blessing rises up
to meet you.
It has been waiting
long ages for you.
and you can see
the layers of it,
how it has been fashioned
by those who walked
this road before you,
how it has been created
of nothing but
and their dreaming,
how it has taken
from an ancient hope
that drew them forward
and made a way for them
when no way could be
and you will see
is not finished,
that you are part
of the path
it is preparing,
that you are how
this blessing means
to be a voice
within the wilderness
and a welcome
for the way. Amen
- For more on Australian songlines please look here.
- For the inspiration for this sermon and Jan Richardson’s Blessing please go to her wonderful website: http://adventdoor.com/2011/12/01/advent-2-blessing-the-way/
- We finished the service with this uplifting song by Joshua Aaron: